I lost track of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies somewhere in the mid-eighties. I saw the first three in the theater and then never got around to another one until New Nightmare. I'm not really a fan of the series, though I do like the New Nightmare quite a bit--I think it's Wes Craven's best film, actually. In truth, I haven't even thought much about the series in the years since. So the fourth entry, A Nightmare on Elm Street: The Dream Master (1988, directed by Renny Harlin) was terra incognito for me. I'm hazy on which characters are held over from the third movie, but it doesn't matter much. They're all meat for the grinder.
The plot finds Kristen, one of the previous film's survivors, having ominous dreams that indicate that Freddy Krueger may still be out there, somewhere. She communicates this to her fellow survivors, to no avail. The final Elm Street kids are all killed in the end. Before she dies, Kristen pulls her friend, Alice into her dreams (a power established in the previous film) and bestows her powers on her. This draws Freddy's attentions, and he begins manipulating Alice in order to pull more kids into his domain. But Alice has a power that Freddy hasn't counted on: she assumes the powers of every kid that Freddy kills. A showdown is inevitable.
This movie is thin on plot. What plot there is exists as a framework for the dream sequences, many of which function more as pop-culture allusions than as the kinds of dreams that people actually have. This, of course, is the problem with this film. It's not scary. It's just going through the motions rather than plumbing the psychological traumas of adolescence. Even if you view this as a kind of superhero film--and there's some justification for that interpretation--it lacks the spectacle you would want from such a thing. And it's not like director Renny Harlin doesn't have an appetite for such things. He does. Like most of the people involved with this film, he's cashing a paycheck.
It's a mark of the series' decadence that it devolves to a power fantasy in which the protagonist has some wild talent rather than relying on mere humanity. The later slashers became so godlike in their abilities that this was a necessity if they were to keep to the formula rather than charge off into some more interesting direction. This is something the Friday the 13th films eventually adopt, as well. The exceptionalism of its heroine short circuits whatever path the earlier films might have had to the part of the unconscious that experiences horror. This was a problem with the ridiculousness of its villain from the second film onward, and with this film, it extends it to the heroes. And unlike Freddy, they have no distinct personalities.
Freddy, for his part, sleepwalks through the action, delivering his tired witticisms. Somewhere in the middle of the film, I wanted to buy Freddy a collection of bon mots by H. L. Menken or Dorothy Parker. His way with words leaves a lot to be desired here. This film is light on special effects, too, though some of them are clever. I do have some fondness for the pizza scene in which each peperoni and each meatball is a soul for Freddy to spear with one of his finger knives and gobble up, and I do like the low-rent Fly rip-off in which one of the victims is turned into a cockroach and trapped in a roach motel. The finale, in which all of the souls Freddy has devoured erupt from his body is nicely handled, too, so kudos to Kevin Yagher's effects team, who alone of the filmmakers chose not to phone it in.
Anyway, I feel no burning need to sit through the next film any time soon.
Current Challenge tally:
Total Viewings: 2
First Time Viewings: 2
Around the web:
The inestimable Dr. AC over at Horror 101 joins the fun with a look at Brian De Palma's Phantom of the Paradise
Tim over at The Other Side still has a jones for werewolves and takes in Ginger Snaps 2.
Our Dreams in the Bitch House bestie, Anna, is Bemused and Nonplussed while looking at the seminal Australian film, Wake In Fright.